16.7.19

CRICKET – Bats, Balls & Memories



My Lucky Cricket Ball

With the ODI World Cup in the bag and cricket in the headlines again, it seems appropriate to use Just Backdated to reminisce, not about The Who or Melody Maker for once but about the only sport I truly love. My fondness for cricket goes back to when I was old enough to hold a bat and bowl a ball. In Yorkshire, where I was raised, cricket was a religion, on a much higher level than football or rugby, at least in our house. Indeed, cricket was in my blood.

         As a young man my dad was handy with a bat and an impressive medium pace bowler. Invited to Headingley for trials with Yorkshire, his father had forbidden him from going. “No son of mine is earning his living with a bat and ball,” he admonished wisely, a quotation handed down to me like a meditator’s mantra. So dad ended up playing for Idle CC in the ultra-competitive Bradford League. At the age of 22 he captained the Idle side that won the Priestley Cup, the league’s principal competition. By the time I was born he'd given up league cricket and was playing regularly for The Hawks CC, a wandering club that played throughout Yorkshire and beyond.
         For ten years, from the age of six to 16, dad and I attended the Scarborough Cricket Festival, occupying the same seats in the members’ stand that he and my grandfather had occupied for decades. I loved the carefree atmosphere of the Cricket Festival, the friendly way in which the matches were played, the brass band that performed in the afternoons, and the annual apple or orange bowled as likely as not by Fred Trueman after lunch during the first day of the Gentleman v Players match.
My dad’s parents lived in Scarborough, on Esplanade Road, where we stayed. Each morning during Festival week three generations of Charlesworths would drive to the North Marine Road Ground via the sea front and take our seats in time for the first ball bowled, me clutching a scorecard which I’d diligently fill in as play progressed. There were three three-day matches in those days, Gentlemen v. Players (Amateurs v Professionals), Yorkshire v. MCC and T.N. Pearces’ XI v. that season’s overseas touring side.
What made the whole Festival such great fun was that players past and present would stroll across the field from the pavilion to the marquees to take lunch and tea. Schoolboys like myself would lay in wait for them, and in this way I amassed an autograph book full of cricketing legends like Herbert Sutcliffe, Johnny Wardle, Norman Yardley, Maurice Leyland, Bill Edrich, Frank Tyson and Peter May, not to mention several championship-chasing Yorkshire sides from the Fifties and Sixties, led by Ray Illingworth or Brian Close. I still have that autograph book and on other pages there are the tourists, West Indians Clyde Walcott, Everton Weeks and Gary Sobers together as a trio on one page, on another the entire South African side from 1960, and on another a postcard sized picture of India, year unrecorded, with each player’s signature neatly written across their image.

Perhaps my most impressive group is the T. N. Pearce’s XI from the 73rd Festival. I had carefully cut the pictures of the players from the Scarborough evening paper, pasted them in the book and somehow got all 11 players to sign: P. E. Richardson, M. J. K. Smith, Godfrey Evans, F. S. Trueman, E. R. Dexter, Ken Barrington, Trevor Bailey, Colin Moss, Ray Illingworth, Harold Rhodes and one player whose name I can’t make out.

Top: Ted Dexter & Ken Barrington; below Godfrey Evans & Fred Trueman

At Scarborough dad turned out for a wandering side called Little Aston Stragglers who on the Sunday during festival week played an annual fixture against the West Riding Cricket Club at the Oriel, Scarborough’s ‘other’, smaller cricket ground. From the age I could hold a pencil I was recruited to score for the LA Stragglers. It broke my heart if ever I had to record a duck next to dad’s name.
         Scarborough’s South Bay skyline was dominated by the elegant Grand Hotel where many of the players stayed and where a Cricketers’ Room was set aside in which they could dine, away from prying eyes like my own. The walls of the Cricketers’ Room were adorned with photographs and prints stretching back to the beginning of the century. I was about 13 when my dad’s parents celebrated their diamond wedding in that room in 1961.
         As a member of Scarborough CC dad was entitled to drink with the players in the pavilion or marquees, and I spent hours outside these bars enjoying the cricket, sitting with my bottle (never a can!) of fizzy drink, my autograph book and scorecard to hand, daydreaming of great deeds on the pitch, admiring Godfrey’s Evans’ natural style behind the stumps, urging Ted Dexter on towards a quick fifty, marvelling at the way Freddie Trueman could throw a ball from the boundary edge straight into the keeper’s gloves above the bails.
         As well as the Scarborough Festival dad took me to many test and county games at Headingley and Old Trafford where he would point out the famous players of the day, and Hawks fixtures in which he took part himself. In the mid-Sixties dad went up against Brian Sellars for the Keighley & Craven seat on Yorkshire CCC Committee but lost the poll by five votes. Around that time he successfully smuggled me into the Kennington Oval Pavilion by claiming, with his collusion, that I was Yorkshire batsman Jackie Hampshire’s younger brother.
        
All that is long past now. The truth is that despite all this youthful enthusiasm for the game I was never much good at it. I tried, and dad even enrolled me at Headingly one summer for a course overseen by Arthur Mitchell, the stern Yorkshire coach, who wasn’t impressed by my efforts. During the years when I was on the staff of Melody Maker I lost touch with cricket, especially when I lived in New York, though I recall clearly an evening in a restaurant there with my sister who’d come to visit in the summer of 1976. For some reason we talked about cricket and were overheard by an English couple on the next table. They joined us and we talked for hours. Like me they were starved of cricket conversation.
         In the late Eighties, briefly, I re-assumed my cricketing life by turning out a few times for the Old Ruffians, a team made up from employees and friends of the Rough Trade record shop in Notting Hill Gate. We played in and around west London, often on a pitch that was below the elevated section of the M4 between Boston Manor and Brentford. Once we played at the Oval, when it was possible to hire a reduced form of the ground for £1,000 on a Sunday afternoon. Both teams chipped in £50 per player, and that included the scoreboard and access to the same changing rooms where the real cricketers strapped on their pads. What I remember most about the Old Ruffians games is our demon fast bowler Keith Allen who would bring his daughter Lily along, wheeling her around the boundary in a pushchair.
         Henceforth I became a spectator and, though in the Nineties I attended a few Test Matches at both Lords and the Oval, I’m nowadays glued to Sky, as I have been for the past month. I’m always happy to watch games in which I have no particular interest in who wins, just because I love to watch a great batsman play his strokes or a great bowler nip one back and catch the edge on a day when swing is in the air. I have always preferred the ebb and flow of cricket to any other sport; the diverse individual skills that contribute to an all-round team performance, an all-encompassing contest, even if it does take a bit longer than most to reach a result. 
         That aspect of cricket, the time it takes to conclude a game, used to bemuse my American friends back in the day. When I mentioned to any of them that a game between two cricketing nations went on for five days they were astounded, and when I pointed out that even after five days the game could end in a draw they thought I was taking the piss.
         Delighted though I was that England’s fabulous 50-over side won the World Cup on Sunday I thought that on the day New Zealand were the moral victors, but I temper this with the belief that England played better than any other side throughout the competition as a whole and, as a result, deserved to lift the trophy. Morgan’s cool leadership and six-hitting against Afghanistan was a joy, as were the opening platforms posted by Bairstow and Roy. Root is Mr Reliable, Buttler our sharpshooter. Archer is a stupendous find with tons of cricket ahead of him and the rest our bowling pack of Plunkett, Wood, Woakes and Rashid preyed like sharks. Then there was Stokes, no longer the hothead, whose keen eye for the way a game develops made him the key man in the side, most often with the bat but in the field too. His stupendous catch by the Oval boundary during the first game against South Africa set the tone for all that followed for me.
         And when in the middle stages of the competition England seemed to be faltering I delved beneath the stairs of our house, found my lucky cricket ball and put it within reach as I watched the TV. That’s it at the top of this post, and on the reverse is W. Walker, Keighley’, a sports shop where the Hawks CC bought their gear. It belonged to my dad and every so often during the rest of England’s games I leaned over and grabbed it, cradling it for a few moments and wishing dad was watching the light blue England team with me.


My dad, sketched wearing the green and yellow blazer of Idle CC. 

11.7.19

YESTERDAY – Film Review



A world without The Beatles is not somewhere I would want to live, but this is the unlikely scenario on which this strange, occasionally enjoyable but ultimately flawed fantasy film is based. It’s far too cute for my liking, with laboured jokes, inexplicable plot twists and a soppy, all too predictable, ending. Also, for those unfamiliar with The Beatles – and there’s probably a few such folk now we’ve reached 2019 – there’s a lack of backstory that fails to celebrate the group and their songs to the extent that they merit.
         It’s the present day (I think) and for reasons unexplained there’s a worldwide power failure during which Jack (Himesh Patel), a struggling singer songwriter, is knocked from his bike and rendered unconscious. He wakes up to discover that no one remembers, or is even aware of, The Beatles, or Coca-Cola or cigarettes or Oasis for that matter. This realisation comes across subtly, at first anyway, with quizzical faces appearing when Jack quotes a lyric or, more importantly, accompanies himself singing ‘Yesterday’ to a group of friends who believe he’s written it himself.
         Among the friends is Ellie (Lily James), his manager-cum-roadie-cum-cheerleader, who provides the romantic spark as their platonic relationship grows into something more meaningful. Meanwhile Jack tries desperately to recall as many Beatles songs as he can, mostly predictable choices like ‘Help’, ‘She Loves You’ and ‘Let It Be’, and performs them as if they were his own. The audiences get bigger, a five-track demo gets airplay, his career gets lift-off and along comes admiring Ed Sheeran, playing himself, to offer Jack a support slot on his world tour.
         So far so good, but the first indication that we’re approaching naff territory is the arrival of Debra (Kate McKinnon), playing Sheeran’s American manager, who takes Jack under her wing to make him a star. Someday a screenwriter or director will have the balls to portray a music business manager as a caring, nurturing character whose priority really is the welfare of their client and not a money-grabbing monster, but in Debra we have the trite clichéd version, the US equivalent of the way Dick James was portrayed in Rocketman, the movie based on the life and music of Elton John.
         Thereafter the film sinks into a rather banal love story and the Beatles angle becomes secondary to Jack and Ellie’s will they/won’t they relationship. With the awful Debra pulling the strings and a double album of ‘self-penned’ Beatle songs in the bag, Jack is primed to become the biggest star the world has ever known. Then he’s confronted by his conscience, aided and abetted by a couple of unrelated punters who arrive on the scene and, like him, happen to remember The Beatles, so he forsakes all, shacks up with Ellie and everyone lives happily ever after. There’s an unexpected and, frankly, unnecessary twist at the end in questionable taste that I won’t reveal here but, like much of everything else, it merely accelerates the inevitable cheesy conclusion. The closing, appallingly twee, scene sees Jack reduced to singing ‘Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da’ to a bunch of kids at the school where Ellie is a teacher, but the conundrum on which the film is based – the genesis of the songs – remains annoyingly unresolved.
         I have no quarrel with Patel or James who play their parts well, though Patel does seem a tad detached, with the film carrying him instead of the other way around. James is her usual, attractive bubbly self, amusingly switching with ease from the three-blokes-in-as-many-weeks promiscuity of Donna in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again to the chaste, we’ve-known-one-another-for-years-but-haven’t-shagged-yet Ellie. Nor do I have much quarrel with Danny Boyle, whose direction is as lively as you would expect. No, the culprit here is screenwriter Richard Curtis who has simply used the music of The Beatles and the ludicrous conceit of their not having existed as a vehicle for yet another rom-com that is little more than a retread of his other, similar, scripts (Four Weddings, Notting Hill, et al) wherein a couple of long acquaintance or differing circumstances don’t realise they’re attracted to each other romantically until something eventually happens that makes them realise they do.  
         I’ve read that Paul and Ringo ‘support’ the film and that its release has sent John and Paul to number four in the Rock Songwriters Chart, whatever that it is. Well that’s great but they, The Beatles that is, deserve better than Yesterday.


9.7.19

PAUL McCARTNEY, JUNIOR’S FARM & MM’s MAN DAN


Let's go let's go 
Down to Junior's Farm where I want to lay low
Low life, high life, go let's go 
Take me down to Junior's Farm
Everybody tag along
Take me down to Junior's Farm

My discovery of photographs of The Beatles at the Gaumont Theatre in Bradford has had an unexpected repercussion in that they, and the accompanying Just Backdated post, were seen by Dan Ealey who, in 1974, called me in New York from Tennessee applying for the job of Nashville correspondent for Melody Maker.
         Part of my job as MM’s US editor in those days was to appoint and maintain a string of correspondents in big cities around the country who would send me stories and reviews of important shows happening locally that I hadn’t covered myself in New York. Dan’s phone call was motivated by news of an impending visit to the area by Paul McCartney & Wings and the likelihood that Paul might do something newsworthy, like hold a press conference or even stage a small private show. In the event he did neither but this didn’t deter Dan, a massive Beatles fan, from calling me to claim he was an experienced reporter, which he wasn’t, and extracting from me the letter below that confirms his appointment as ‘Melody Maker’s representative’. There is sometimes a fine line between initiative and deceitfulness but I’m willing, especially now, to give Dan the benefit of the doubt and warmly applaud his resourcefulness.


         Armed with my letter Dan set out to find out where Paul, Linda and the rest of Wings were staying. It turned out to be a farm belonging to songwriter Curly ‘Junior’ Putnam – writer of ‘Green Green Grass Of Home’ – at Lebanon in Wilson County, Tenn. Dan arrived at the farm gates, brandished my letter and was invited to drive in, whereupon he clocked Denny Laine and Jimmy McCulloch on the lawn and opened up a conversation by asking them to demonstrate how to play the opening lick to ‘Band On The Run’. Jimmy obliged, using a Les Paul that belonged to his bandmate who was with him and which just happened to be in back seat of his car, as did Dan’s Rickenbacker bass which Paul borrowed for three weeks. In that time Dan became a bit of a fixture at the farm, doing odd jobs, manning the gate and generally making himself useful.


         Dan had his picture taken with Paul who wore a fancy embroidered shirt that Dan had given him, and was on gate duty the night that Jerry Reed, Chet Atkins and Roy Orbison arrived for supper. He also smuggled a tape recorder into the grounds and recorded Wings rehearsing, not just familiar material like ‘Let Me Roll It’, ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ and ‘My Love’ but a new song that turned out to be ‘Junior’s Farm’, inspired, of course, by the location.
         I never heard from Dan again, which is probably not surprising; no reports of Paul’s activities in the Bible Belt, no insightful revues of country stars at the Grand Ole Opry, no speculation on who might become the next big thing from the home of C&W. In truth, I forgot all about Dan and the letter I wrote, probably because these correspondents from around the USA came and went pretty quickly, no doubt because the rewards were miniscule even they did bring about free tickets to gigs.
         That is, until two days ago. It seems Dan’s brush with Paul & Wings has made him something of a local celebrity, and this week he sent me clips from two TV shows in which he tells his story, with my letter featuring in both. And if they make me look like the victim of an ingenious ruse, then, like Rhett Butler, frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.  


Dan and Denny Laine with the Rickenbacker bass, 43 years apart. Dan sold it in late 1974 but chased it for 42 years, finally retrieving it in 2017.